/ 22 March 2019

Editorial: The destruction of Thuma Mina

Editorial: The destruction of Thuma Mina (Photo Archive)

Thuma Mina. It started as a slogan. A way for President Cyril Ramaphosa to summon the spirit of our country’s struggle history to tackle the problems of today. The damage caused under Jacob Zuma — a period termed the “lost decade” — would be fixed. It would be hard, but the ANC had learnt its lessons and would now change. Ramaphosa and his team got down to tackling state capture at state-owned entities such as cash-strapped Eskom. Thuma Mina allowed for peak Ramaphoria: a suspension of critique, and a chance for outright hope that this country could realise its promise.

Then the lights went out. Speaking from an investment conference abroad, the president expressed shock at how bad things were at Eskom. Engineers scrambled, and suddenly the lights came on. And then the load-shedding started — to prevent a blackout and buy time for maintenance that had not been carried out on the ageing infrastructure. Diesel cannot be supplied on demand. And there was Cyclone Idai.

Electricity has long been a proxy for just how corrupt and inept the government-corporate axis is. In the 1970s, Eskom, a vehicle for safe white employment, started a power plant building spree. Big projects meant lots to steal. This is still true today.

In the 2000s the state started building the coal-fired Medupi and Kusile power stations. They ignored concerns raised about the effect their air pollution would have on global warming and people’s health, and about the capacity of Eskom to handle such projects. It was no coincidence that the ANC owns a stake in a company that got the contract to work on Medupi’s boilers.

A decade later, and Eskom can only generate electricity to half of its capacity. If we didn’t have renewable energy plants, load-shedding would be at an unimaginable stage seven. Yet there’s an orchestrated campaign to target those plants and halt their progress.

Politics over reality. Politics over livelihoods and lives.

Thuma Mina is now a joke phrase, used as shorthand in conversations to indicate a shared understanding of just how much trouble we are in. Joking is how we survive. It’s how we come to grips with an economy, broken by Eskom, teetering on the edge of a junk status grading. The darkness is here.

Thuma Mina promised change, but the ANC has just published its election list, with people on it who have lied under oath, or destroyed government departments for personal gain. The party is insulting voters.

It’s not as if the other choices are much better. The Democratic Alliance has no idea what it actually is, and allows its xenophobic Johannesburg mayor to entrench hatred. The Economic Freedom Fighters are merely a vehicle to get Julius Malema into power. Voting for either is, at best, a protest vote.